40 years of CEDAW: let’s take stock of discrimination against women in Jordan

Chiara Lozza

On March 6, the Arab Women Organization (AWO), one of Alianza’s main partners in Jordan, hosted a celebration of the International Women’s Day. The event, organized under a shared Alianza-AWO’s project funded by the UN Women Trust Fund, consisted of two round tables dedicated to discussing the theme of social protection for women and girls in Jordan, focusing on the last legal achievements and drawbacks.

The occasion also marked the celebration for the 40th anniversary of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979. The Convention, described as the most important human rights treaty for women, defines discrimination against women as “…any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.” It sets obligations for the states parties (currently 189) to take action to end discrimination against women, including by submitting national reports at least every four years on the status of implementation of the treaty obligations.

Jordan signed and ratified the Convention, albeit with some reservations (including on the right of women to pass their nationality to their children), and is therefore bound to put its provisions into practice. In 2017, a coalition of Jordanian civil society organizations, including AWO, presented a shadow report to the CEDAW Committee, reviewing the state report and highlighting the main challenges still hindering gender equality in the country. Despite positive legislative steps, the most prominent being the repealing of Article 308 of the Penal Code, which allowed rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims, women remain discriminated by a patriarchal society. In particular, the report pointed out that “honour” remains a mitigating factor when it comes to violence against women, allowing anyone who commits a crime against female relatives to receive more lenient sentences. Although violence against women remains a widespread phenomenon in Jordan, with 14% of women experiencing physical and/or sexual violence by the partner during the last 12 months, most women are reluctant to report such incidents, due to the social stigma and the lack of adequate protection and support to the victims. Finally, the report underlined that women are consistently under-represented in positions of power and leadership, while the level of women’s economic participation is among the lowest in the whole region – in stark contrast with the fact that female students now represent more than half of the students at university level.

Such problems become even more worrisome when it comes to refugee women, who are victims of a double discrimination on the basis of both their gender and their status. Refugees in Jordan are particularly vulnerable to forms of discrimination and abuse such as violence, early marriage, and lack of access to basic services and resources. This is why it is crucial to adopt a gender lens when responding to the refugee situation in Jordan, so as to see and address the specific vulnerability that, so far, has made refugee women an easy prey of discrimination and gender based violence.